Dictionary explains the word ‘Serendipity’ as an unsought, unintended, and/or unexpected but fortunate discovery and/or learning experience that happens by accident. Lately, I came across this word in an article in ‘The Hindu’, the newspaper I usually read, more to build on my vocabulary than to know the news. As I checked the dictionary for the word’s meaning, it led me to some unintended self-reflection and learning that I’d like to share.
Learning may not always be related to the work we do in our organizations. It could be essential life skills that each one of us should have, such as cooking, washing clothes & utensils, and taking care of yourself specially when you are away from home.
In Indian households, there are a plenty of reasons for boys to not learn these skills. It could be the family tradition that keeps them away from it. Many times, there’s just no reason for boys to do all this. The causes could be gender bias and patriarchy, quite prevalent in the society. A common reason for girls to master these skills is given in the way of this question:
“Kal ko dusre ghar jaaegi to kaise kaam karegi?” (How will you manage your house after getting married?)
Although the answer isn’t always given, girls do the household chores under the cloud of fear. A fear that it might create a mess in future if she doesn’t know how to do it. On the other hand, boys like me shamelessly enjoy pampering at home, especially from mothers. I still miss the days when my mother used to have the food ready for me three times a day. After doing that intensive labour before the flame (as I am doing it, I understand it now!), her job was to bear everyone’s tantrums in the family.
Also, among the three of us (I and my two brothers), I’ve stayed home for the longest time and hence, have troubled our mother the most. I completed my graduation and post-graduation from my hometown, Allahabad (or call it Prayagraj now, if you like that). I’ve always been a day scholar during school and college days. Living in the hostel was something I couldn’t afford, not so much because of expenses but because I didn’t know how I would manage myself. Why would anyone take the pain to leave home and live in a hostel? I couldn’t comprehend it.
Time flew, and the passing years made me think if it’s time to move and do some work. When I first went away from home, it was to get involved in a ‘Watershed development project’ in Jind district of Haryana. There, I worked closely with the district administration. My accommodation was arranged at a ‘Sainik guest house’ near city bus stand. For food, I used to depend on a few restaurants nearby. They had inappropriate charges and the meals weren’t even healthy. I think that the heavily spiced food there was good to have once in a while but consuming it on a daily basis wasn’t a great idea. Finding a laundry service was also a task. Google helped there to make life easier but my frugal nature resented. This expense could be avoided by washing my own clothes.
After a few months, I was lucky to embark upon my journey as an India Fellow where young people are placed with various grassroots NGOs across the country. I have been with ‘Waste Warriors’ in Dehradun, an organization working on waste management. Currently, we are a small team managing multiple projects. The nature of work is quite challenging and I realized that I have been escaping challenges since a long time. Initially, I used to go out to eat each time my stomach would growl. I had no control over what I was eating. The excessive oil in parathas and skipping breakfast on some days had become the norms. We used to cook sometimes at the guest house where I’d play the role of an apprentice assisting a better cook.
One day, my boss’s grandfather arrived at guest house. He was here to stay for a few days with the purpose to see what his grandson does for a living. ‘Dadaji’, as we addressed him, was too old and demanded some amount of care. He didn’t like food from outside as it contained a lot of spices. We were never sure of ingredients. So, it now became a compulsion to cook. A new system of cooking had to be accepted by all the creatures (people) living here. It was a bit troublesome in the beginning but we started enjoying it soon, coupled with loud music including a variety of songs ranging from Bollywood to Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Pahadi and what not!
I took the responsibility of making chapatis as I could make them round. Even though they were as hard as ‘Papad’, I continued to try till I achieve perfection. Learning through experiment and observing techniques at food stalls outside, I mastered the skill. It gave some confidence to my culinary side. Now, I could dare to try some other recipes to go with the round chapatis. Dadaji went back and the old Swiggy/Zomato culture was back again. But I had gotten used to the cooking routine. The attempts continued with the help of tutorial videos on Youtube and I could learn things I never expected.
All this also taught me that life does not always teaches things in obvious ways. One needs to be open to learn from all means. We should be engaged in the process and value what we learn. Nothing goes waste. As cooking skills will help me in future, every new thing we get to know may be of use somewhere, someday. These experiences made me appreciate the small things I’m learning this year.